Obesity Surgery for Weight Loss: A New Teenage Trend?

VIDEO: . Richard Besser reviews the possible health risks associated with the procedure.
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It's an option that may seem extreme for a teenage patient. But ask 15-year-old Kallum Shropshire, who just earlier this year weighed more than 400 pounds, and he will say that obesity surgery was his last resort.

"I've tried dieting and Slim Fast, and other fitness programs too," Shropshire said. "It was just a bunch of work that didn't really pay off."

The LaFayette, Ga., teen said his obesity posed problems beyond the implications for his physical health. Two years ago, he said, his weight interfered with his participation in marching band; eventually, he had to drop out.

"The risk of surgery didn't really matter to me because I really needed something done," he said. "Because I wasn't me, I couldn't really be myself in front of everybody. I just felt like I was an outcast."

For Shropshire, the solution was bariatric surgery in the form of a gastric sleeve operation -- a procedure that removes roughly 85 percent of the stomach. Since his surgery on June 3, Shropshire said he has lost 60 pounds. That was enough weight loss to allow him to complete marching band camp this year. And he hopes that more results are on the way.

"I'd like to lose at least 110 more pounds," he said. "That's my goal is to get down to 250."

Stories like Shropshire's may be becoming increasingly common, a new study released today in the journal Pediatrics suggests. The research, led by Dr. Daniel A. DeUgarte of the UCLA School of Medicine, found that between 2005 and 2007 in California, a total of 590 young patients 13-20 years old underwent a popular type of bariatric surgery known as laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, or LAGB.

Perhaps more interesting: over the course of the two-year study, rates of the procedure in this age group increased fivefold.

Most of these procedures occurred in patients on the older end of the age spectrum; only 18 percent of the surgeries were performed on children younger than 18. And while the rates of this surgery appear to be on the rise in younger patients, the rates of another, more invasive gastric procedure known as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass decreased in this age group over the course of the study.

Gastric Procedures in Teens: Weapon Against Obesity Epidemic?

Still, the findings may have big implications in a country in which nearly one in five adolescents aged 12-19 are obese, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bariatric surgery has become a popular option among obese adults; more than 220,000 obese Americans underwent such procedures in 2009.

The Food and Drug Administration, however, has not yet specifically approved the safety of these procedures for children.

"Although LAGB has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in children, its use has increased dramatically," the authors wrote in the study. "Long-term studies are needed to fully assess the efficacy, safety, and health care costs of these procedures in adolescents."

Dr. Mark Wulkan, Surgeon-in-Chief at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, who performed Shropshire's procedure, said due to this, doctors should be very careful when selecting young patients for the procedure.

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